Lauren Holtkamp is the NBA’s third female referee, and has vaulted into the news due to Chris Paul’s criticism of her after the Clippers-Cavaliers game on Thursday night.
Paul said after he received a technical foul–one of five called by the refs during the heated game–that Holtkamp’s reasoning was “ridiculous.” He said he merely questioned her about getting an inbounds pass out quicker.
“I don’t care what nobody says, I don’t care what she says; that’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said, ‘Uh-uh.’ I said, ‘Why, uh-uh?’ And she gave me a tech,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, this might not be for her.”
Holtkamp is one of only two women who currently ref in the NBA, as the third woman in league history stopped a long time ago.
Holtkamp, 34, played basketball at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, a Division II school, where she also pursued her master’s in marketing and communications. Her start in referring came when she was invited by a former teammate’s father to a local refs meeting, and in 2004 reffed her first game, a middle-school girls game.
“You could tell early she was extremely poised, extremely intelligent, and had a desire to be good,” Kelly Holt, who was head of the Southwest Missouri Basketball Officials Association while Holtkamp worked middle school and high school games in his area, told Grantland.
Holtkamp had plans to attend Emory University to get her master’s in divinity, but ultimately decided against it as her refereeing progress. She made friends with former WNBA refs, who helped her advance to the next level four years later. That’s when she began reffing games in the D-League, or the NBA’s equivalent of a minor league. She also started working WNBA and women’s college games around the same time.
“Within four years of putting on a whistle, I was starting my experience in the D-League,” Holtkamp told USA Today last year. “At the time, I wasn’t sure I was ready in terms of skill and I wasn’t. Looking back, we started from ground zero. That’s the genius of George’s development program. He will teach us good habits from the beginning so we maximize our development in a shorter amount of time.”
George Toliver, the NBA’s associate vice president of referee development, runs the program. He and his staff put dozens of refs through the program, and highlight those they believe are good enough to advance to the NBA.
“It is a farm system for us,” said Don Vaden, director and vice-president of NBA officials. “We basically try to bring in the best that we can find, regardless of where they are in their careers.”
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This is Holtkamp’s first season in the NBA. Two other officials, Dedric Taylor and Justin Van Duyne, also joined the 60 other refs in the league this season.
Before joining the NBA, Holtkamp worked six games last season as a non-staff official. “We don’t bring referees from the D-League to the NBA to learn how to be an NBA referee,” Toliver said. “We train them to be ready and they don’t get a recommendation if they’re not ready to walk in and know how to referee at that level every single night.”
Holtkamp used to imagine a career as a chaplain working in a hospital, women’s prison, or women’s health center, but now feels officiating is right for her.
“In order to be in the space to make the best decisions night in, night out, it really demands 100% effort physically, mentally, emotionally,” she said. “I am able to participate in a career where I can bring the fullness of who I am to the work.”
She also said she doesn’t feel added pressure despite helping open up the space for other women.
“I don’t feel pressure,” she says. “The pressure I feel as a new referee is no different than any other pressure that a first-year referee feels coming in.”